What’s The Best Wood For Outdoor Signs? Here’s The Truth!

Whether you’re putting up trail markers along a hiking trail, or a sign for a home business, you may love the idea of having a wooden outdoor sign. However, exposure to the elements takes its toll on wood. So, here’s the truth about the best wood for outdoor signs.

1.     Medium-Density Overlay

2.     Redwood

3.     Cedar

4.     Cypress

5.     Douglas-Fir

6.     Eucalyptus

7.     Acacia

8.     White Oak

9.     Black Locust

10.  Teak

11.  Ipe

12.  Other domestic hardwoods

13. Other exotic hardwoods

Trying to decide on the absolute best wood for an outdoor sign is difficult, as you need the wood to be durable and survive exposure to the elements and look good. Your specific needs and budget will play a significant role in deciding the best wood for a sign.

1. Medium Density Overlay

If you want to make a painted outdoor wood sign, you can’t do much better than medium density overlay. MDO is a composite material consisting of marine-grade plywood with an overlay of medium-density fiberboard. 

What’s The Best Wood For Outdoor Signs? Here’s The Truth!

It resists the elements well and is easy to work with and paint. It is used for many business and highway construction signs. You can obtain it from sign supply companies and some lumberyards.

However, if you require a natural wood finish, you should carry on reading!

2. Redwood

Redwood has a natural resistance to insects and rot and will weather exceptionally well. 

It cuts well and is soft, making it easy to carve. The ease of carving and attractive red color of the wood would make for a beautiful sign.

However, a downside of redwood is that redwood trees grow slowly and have been over-harvested, meaning that the wood is not environmentally friendly.

3. Cedar

The various species known as cedars share specific common characteristics: rot and pest resistance and relatively soft, lightweight wood that is highly aromatic. Cedar is an excellent choice for outdoor applications.

For making signs, the species of choice is Western red cedar (Thuja plicata), which has a coarse, straight grain that is generally free of knots. Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) has a very fine, even grain. Still, it is challenging to find boards without loads of knots.

Because of its softness, Western red cedar sandblasts easily, and exciting signs can be made by sandblasting the background to leave the letters and designs in relief.

4. Cypress

Cypress grows in swamps and has natural oils that make it rot and insect resistant. It weathers well, taking on a silvery-gray color with time.

What’s The Best Wood For Outdoor Signs? Here’s The Truth!

It has an attractive, rustic grain that will give a sign made from its visual impact, especially if stained. Cypress stains well.

It is soft and carves easily and will make an excellent carved or sandblasted sign.

5. Douglas-Fir

Most closely related to the larches, Douglas-Fir is readily obtainable as DF-L. It is an exceptionally tough softwood with a prominent grain and a reddish-brown color.

It is only moderately durable but, if properly treated, will resist the elements well. It is pretty water-resistant. Because the trees grow fast and tall, large pieces are available, and you will be able to make relatively large signs from a single piece of wood.

6. Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus resembles teak, having a pinkish-brown color that weathers to silvery-gray and tight, straight grain. The natural oils repel insects and moisture, making it rot-resistant. It will last for decades outdoors.

It responds well to branding. Disadvantages include a tendency to warp and split. It is a fast-growing wood grown on many plantations and, as a result, is an economical and eco-friendly choice.

7. Acacia

Acacia is a strong, durable hardwood with a naturally high oil content that makes it resistant to rot and insects. It will resist moisture but discolors with regular exposure to water, so seal it to maintain its dark golden-brown color.

Because it is abundant in tropical countries and fast-growing, it is affordable and environmentally friendly.

8. White Oak

White oak is a hard, heavy, and durable wood that takes penetrating oils well. It has a beautiful grain with ray flecks (so-called tiger oak) on quartersawn surfaces and will make a beautiful and characterful sign. 

What’s The Best Wood For Outdoor Signs? Here’s The Truth!

White oak resists the elements well. Shipbuilders used it for old warships, and coopers still use it to make wine and whiskey barrels. Ensure that you protect it against insects.

If you choose to use oak for your sign, ensure that you get white oak and not red oak. Red oak has a very porous endgrain and will soak up moisture, making it highly prone to rot, which is not desirable in an outdoor sign.

9. Black Locust

Black locust is an extremely strong and stable domestic hardwood. It is rot-resistant, durable, and weathers well. 

It has a straight grain with uniform patterns but is relatively hard to work. However, it is readily available and affordable, and in the 1800s was the wood of choice for outdoor applications. It will make a durable and attractive sign.

10. Teak

It may be expensive, but if you can get a small piece of teak, you will have a phenomenally weather-resistant and attractive sign that will last for decades.

Its high mineral content makes it resistant to warping and splitting, and its high natural oil content makes it resistant to insects and rot. 

However, it is expensive, and you would only want to use it for a sign in a more premium location. Ensure that you buy plantation-grown wood; other teak is logged illegally in threatened forests.

11. Ipe

Also known as Brazilian ironwood, ipe is a South American wood that is so dense that it barely floats in water. It is exceptionally hard and durable and will last for decades even without treatment and longer if protected.

It is more affordable than teak but is still a premium choice.

What’s The Best Wood For Outdoor Signs? Here’s The Truth!

12. Other domestic hardwoods

Beech has a straight or slightly wavy grain and a blond appearance and makes an attractive sign. It is inexpensive and readily available but will need protection from the elements. Cherry is a beautiful dark brown wood that reddens with exposure to sunlight and darkens with age. It makes an attractive outdoor sign provided you treat it adequately but may be challenging to obtain in suitably large pieces. But if you can get it, it is well worth it.

If you live in the Midwest, you may be able to get hold of Osage orange. Native Americans traditionally used this extremely durable wood for making bows, and it stands up to the elements well.

In the Northeast, you can get hold of hard maple (sugar maple). It will need protection against the elements, but it would make an attractive sign with its figured grain for a more sheltered location.

13. Other exotic hardwoods

Although all the woods mentioned here are rare and expensive, they are also highly durable and attractive and would be a good option for a sign for a premium location.

Honduras mahogany costs more than ipe, but machines well and finishes nicely. It is an attractive reddish-brown.

Cumaru, also known as Brazilian Teak, is a dense, dark brown wood that is highly resistant to rot. Jatoba, also known as Brazilian cherry, is orange-brown to reddish-brown wood that resists rot and insects. 

Garapa is a light golden brown hardwood that is highly durable and easy to work. Sapele has a lustrous reddish-brown appearance like mahogany and looks highly attractive with white letters.

Iroko has an attractive, intricate grain and varies in color from golden brown to dark brown. It is naturally full of oils and thus stands up well to the elements. Opepe has an orange-brown color and an attractive, unusual grain. It’s natural oils means it weathers well.

Like teak, shorea is from Southeast Asia. It has a similar hardness and density to teak due to being full of natural oils and weathers well but is less expensive than teak. Lumberyards sell the various species of shorea as meranti or balau.


Choosing the best wood for outdoor signs comes down to your specific needs, location, and budget. There are many acceptable kinds of wood that you can choose from that have the required characteristics for an outdoor sign of rot resistance, insect resistance, and attractiveness.

Choose from one of the woods on this list, and enjoy making your signs!








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